Blink and you’ll miss the key line at 1:15 of the clip below — but a lot of political media didn’t miss it, as it represents the first polite pushback lately from Team Ryan that what Trump fans are calling “RyanCare” is actually TrumpCare too. With a few notable exceptions like Sean Hannity, most of Trump’s media base is all-in against the bill and nudging him to ditch it and scapegoat Ryan for it. Breitbart is openly trying to drive a wedge between Trump and the Speaker; Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy, a friend of Trump’s, published an op-ed yesterday encouraging him to abandon the House bill; and now Eric Bolling is out with a column titled “RyanCare is still ObamaCare. Here are five ways to start over.” Meanwhile, Trump’s five days away from holding a televised rally in Kentucky to sell the bill, which, if it happens, will probably be the point of no return for him in escaping blame for its eventual failure. The scapegoating situation is thus urgent. If the bill is doomed and someone has to take the fall, Trumpers know that the time to pin it on Ryan and run like hell is now. When the legislative going gets tough, the tough get going out the door.
If that happens, we’ll see how aggressive Ryan is in reminding America that this bill was co-written with the White House, not something he came up with one night in his evil dungeon laboratory. In fact, if there are any sinister machinations happening here, Team Trump may be guiltier than Ryan is. Noah Millman can’t help noticing that having this bill tank and having Ryan dragged down with it would fit certain White House agendas quite nicely:
It would normally be strange for a Republican president to want his own party’s majority to suffer a major black eye like that. But this is Ryan’s bill, and Trump has no love for Ryan. Moreover, inasmuch as Bannon is in competition with Ryan-ally and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus for influence over the White House’s agenda, it’s very much in his interest specifically for Ryan to fail. The collapse of the AHCA would be a massive failure — and would likely invite a leadership challenge.
And if it failed quickly, it would be easy for Trump to blame Ryan for getting it wrong, tinker with ObamaCare around the edges (particularly in ways that could be done without even passing legislation), and then when the exchanges don’t collapse claim he fixed them.
After all, the same CBO report that said the AHCA would cost 24 million people their insurance said that the much-heralded death spiral isn’t coming all that soon. Trump could yell at a bunch of insurance executives, watch premiums stabilize, and claim victory.
Even better for Trump, Millman argues, would be if the bill collapsed in the House because of the conservative Freedom Caucus, which would give him an opening politically to reach out to Democrats on grounds that a thoroughly right-wing alternative to ObamaCare obviously can’t pass. Could Trump and Bannon be plotting a grand failure here that gives them leeway to move towards the populist center? Well … no, probably not, for the simple reason that failure is anathema to Trump’s self-image and in this case would be a heavy blow to expectations that he’ll bend the GOP in Congress to his will through sheer audacious bravado. He’s staked a lot of political capital on choosing this fight as his opening battle instead of, say, a jobs program. The longer this drags on, the less time there’ll be to pass other parts of Trump’s agenda. But even if the White House isn’t hoping the bill tanks, they may be okay with the bill tanking. It’s hard to argue with this logic:
Unlike Ryan, Trump also doesn’t worry about boring questions like “how will all this be paid for?”
— David Frum (@davidfrum) March 15, 2017
He’s not committed to this bill, whether he co-wrote it or not; he’s not committed to any bill, really, apart from something that keeps his threshold promise of getting rid of ObamaCare. Which is why Trump media is pushing him right now to turn on Ryan and find another way. They know they don’t have to push hard, especially if they’re pushing in concert, and the sooner he’s free of this albatross, the sooner he can start on more populist legislation, like infrastructure.
Here’s Ryan. As I say, the key line about writing the bill with Trump is at 1:15. (He also makes a point of noting that the president opposes the “clean repeal” strategy favored by conservatives like Jim Jordan, for the understandable reason that if the Senate doesn’t use reconciliation to try to replace parts of the system, they’ll never be able to find 60 votes to do so later through normal Senate procedure.) Exit question: Ryan says at one point here that this is the bill the GOP ran on last year. Er, it is? I thought they didn’t have a plan until about two weeks ago. How many Republican voters had the slightest inkling last year that this is what the GOP replacement proposal for ObamaCare would look like?